How to hold a state hostage? Use religion for politics
Article published in The News on Sunday (TNS) Special Report on ‘Understanding 9/21’, September 30, 2012
Core of national discourse
Immediately after Pakistan’s creation, Khatm-e-Nubuwat squeezed itself out of the epistomic confines of the ‘theological’ and entered the realm of the ‘political’
By Tahir Kamran
Namoos-e-Rasul (honour of the Prophet PBUH) has constituted the very core of our national discourse for the last many years. The proportion of impregnability that it has assumed in Pakistan warrants a dispassionate analysis from the prism of history.
The concept got wider currency in the wake of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book Satanic Verses, in the late 1980s. Incensed mob converged on the American Embassy in Islamabad rendering state apparatus virtually helpless. The historical memory of sacrilege to the Prophet of Islam by the West goes as far back as the crusades but it does not concern us here.
While focusing on the subject in the particular perspective of Pakistan, one may find the conceptual underpinnings of Namoos-e-Rasul resting in an organisation called Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwat (MTKN) that came into existence January 12-14, 1949, in Lahore. Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari, a renowned Ahrari leader and orator par excellence, was its Amir and Muhammad Ali Jallundhri, its secretary/Nazim-i-Alla. Qazi Ehsan Shujabadi, Lal Hussain Akhter, Muhammad Hayat and Taj Mehmud were the main leaders of MTKN.
That organisation sprang up into existence by bisecting Majlis-e-Ahrar, a pro-Congress party known for its political activism in the 1930s, particularly against Ahmadis, which was thoroughly discredited because of its outspoken opposition to the Pakistan demand. Ahrar was averse to any geographical or ethnic solution to the communal problem that India was confronted with. Their slogan of Hakumat-e-Ilahiyya (rule by Allah and Prophet PBUH) proved nothing but a damp squib as Ahrar failed to secure even a single seat in 1945-46 elections.
The newly founded Pakistan came to them as a shock, disillusioned them with regard to their ideology and finished them as a political party. Thus, the Ahrar were divided into political and proselytising groups with the latter focused entirely on Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Its principal aim was to exclude the Ahmadis from the pale of Islam because they allegedly violated one of the fundamentals of Islam (faith on the last Prophet) on which the theological edifice of the Islamic faith rests.
Khatm-e-Nubuwat assumed remarkable salience as a theme of religious debate among Muslim sects during the late 19th century in North India. The controversies entailing the establishment of Ahmadiyya Jamaat in 1889 brought the issue of Khatm-e-Nubuwat to the centre stage of religious polemic or munazara as known in the classical parlance. Tenuous relations continued among Ahmadis and Sunnis in particular, though the tension remained circumscribed to the domain of the munazaras only.
However, immediately after Pakistan’s creation, Khatm-e-Nubuwat squeezed itself out of the epistemic confines of the ‘theological’ and entered the realm of the ‘political’. That happened because Ahrar, as it is widely believed, wanted to secure a foothold in Pakistan’s political mainstream, in which it was successful.
Under the over-arching banner of MTKN, Ahrar leadership despite its Deobandi orientation managed to unite almost all the sectarian denominations including Shias, in its bid to exert pressure on the government to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Sunni Barelvi, Abul Hasnat Qadri, was made its President.
Forging unity among the divergent Muslim sects was no mean feat. Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign Minister of Pakistan, an Ahmadi by faith, was the central focus of MTKN diatribe. Besides, Ahmadis were branded as “Khud-Kashta Pauda” of the British (a plant implanted purposely by them) to undermine Muslims. The government of Khawaja Nazimuddin showed extraordinary resilience to withstand the pressure. It was despite the support Punjab Chief Minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana was lending to MTKN to destabilise the Nazimuddin government at the Centre. One is led to agree with Feroze Khan Noon who, in his autobiography, contends that Daultana wanted to get into power in the Centre.
The state of affairs in Lahore and Karachi became so grim that eventually Martial Law was declared in Lahore to quell the insurgency. With the intervention of the Army, order was restored. Nevertheless, the Nazimuddin government was dismissed.
The usual conclusion drawn from the 1953 movement based largely on the findings of the Munir Report is that it revealed a weakening of the power of the Ulema. This undermined opposition to the adoption of a constitution which was liberal if not completely secular. As Leonard Binder says, the ministers sympathetic to Khatm-e-Nubuwat, Abdur Rab Nishter and Fazlur Rehman, were removed and Zafarullah Khan was retained in the newly constituted cabinet. However, a careful perusal of the post 1953 events of Khatm-e-Nubuwat does not fully support the argument.
The controversy around the contested status of Ahmadis remained alive until 1974. MTKN (Naqsh-i-Sani, second birth) bounced back with renewed vigour on September 13, 1954, in Multan, as a regular political party. Besides, a new breed of Ulema bequeathed the legacy of political Islam by the 1960s. Apart from Abu Ala Maududi and Mufti Mehmood, people like Abdus Sattar Niazi, Yusuf Banori, Ahmad Shah Noorani and Manzur Chinoti were well equipped to carry on the struggle. Not only did they see to it that Ahmadis were excluded from the fold of Islam, but subsequent to it the legitimacy of sects like Zikris, Shias and Ismailis was also suspected as they too did not fit the narrow confines of faith as these Ulema interpreted it.
One can posit that the very act of enforcing the infamous blasphemy law in 1982 and, later, the inclusion of the clause of XX in 1986 by Ziaul Haq were conceptually underpinned by the exclusionary streak embedded in that very concept. Not only the religious minorities but the followers of the Shia sect have also been subjected to the exclusion, the proponents of whom are the exponents of Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Militant outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Muhammad and Harkatul Mujahideen were the subsequent versions of MTKN.
I have shown in my research on sectarianism how much influence Ahrar and Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari had over leaders like Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Bokhari indeed deserves far more scholarly attention which he has, so far, not received.
To conclude this narrative, all these militant groups have virtually held the state of Pakistan hostage; extricating it from their clutches does not seem likely unless liberal sections assert themselves with all valiance at their command.
The author is a noted historian, currently the Iqbal Fellow at the University of Cambridge, U.K.